20,000 students opt out of controversial state test, group says

  • A watchdog group says 10 times as many students, or 20,000, opted out of taking the state's new standardized test as in the previous year.

    A watchdog group says 10 times as many students, or 20,000, opted out of taking the state's new standardized test as in the previous year. Daily Herald file photo

Updated 11/24/2015 5:16 AM

A watchdog group claims more than 20,000 students in Illinois opted out of taking the state's new -- and controversial -- standardized test earlier this year.

The Chicago-based group, More Than A Score, says that is about 10 times as many opt-outs as with the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in the previous year -- about 2,200 students statewide refused the ISAT test in spring 2014, according to the group.


The new test, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or PARCC, was taken for the first time this spring.

"The massive increase in opt-out numbers shows how strongly Illinois families feel that PARCC is an illegitimate test and a poor use of educational resources," said Kylie Spahn of Downers Grove, parent of two students who refused PARCC. "These numbers are really important because it shows that parents are really tired of excessive testing."

Spahn said she requested opt-out numbers from the Illinois State Board of Education, but her requests were denied. She then filed Freedom of Information Act requests for the data directly with 200 school districts statewide. More than 150 school districts have responded, and several others have asked for an extension, she said.

"Of that 2,200 (who refused ISAT), about 2,000 of those students were Chicago Public Schools," Spahn said, adding far more suburban students refused the PARCC test.

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It's unclear whether the more than 20,000 PARCC opt-outs reported by the group might include students counted twice and absentees for other reasons, until the data can be confirmed.

According to data posted online by the More Than A Score, the group reported opt-outs and absences for tests taken in the fall and end-of-year tests. But if the same students opted out in the fall and the spring, then the actual number of students opting out would be far lower.

Among suburban school districts surveyed by the group, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 led the boycott with roughly 26 percent of students opting out of the first round of the PARCC performance-based assessment in English language arts, and about 24 percent skipping the mathematics assessment. Yet, District 214 students who opted out of the end-of-year PARCC assessment in English and math dropped to 9 percent and nearly 5 percent, respectively, according to the group's report.

An ISBE spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. The state has not confirmed how many students statewide boycotted the test.

Spahn started the "Park the PARCC" Facebook group to educate parents about the opt-out process.


"I started to help parents across the state interpret the testing rules and navigate the refusal process," she said.

The state's release of individual test results was different this year. Normally given to the media in early October and embargoed until the end of the month, those results have been delayed; officials with the state board have said complete results might not be ready until the end of December. Instead, some Illinois School Report Card data, which also includes detailed demographics on all school districts, has been released in spurts.

At the time of the last release, about 20 suburban high school superintendents were to meet with state school Superintendent Tony Smith to complain about poor performance results from the new standardized test and the timing of its release.

Partial results, taken from students who took the test online, show less than one-third of students statewide are meeting college-readiness standards. Paper test results haven't yet been disclosed.

Suburban superintendents are asking the state to reconsider using the disappointing scores as a baseline year.

Spahn said she already has submitted a letter to Downers Grove Elementary District 58 refusing this year's PARCC tests students will take next spring.

"Our state education budget just keeps getting slashed, yet we are being forced to spend money on teacher training to administer this test that has absolutely no bearing on a child's grade, group placement for math and reading or grade promotion," she said. "It's just such a waste of resources. If you are designing a test to fail 70 percent of the students taking it, how is that a measure of their learning or academic achievement?"

"My plan is to remove my children from school and have them participate in an educational activity, take them to a museum," she said.

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